ucanews.com reporter, Manila
Updated: September 12, 2016 08:08 AM GMT
Relatives and friends of four farmers who were shot and killed over a land dispute state a demonstration in Manila to call for justice. (Photo courtesy of Anakpawis)
Philippine church and human rights groups are calling for an investigation into the Sept. 3 killing of four farmers on land claimed by the rural poor and the military in the town of Laur, in Nueva Ecija province.
Unidentified gunmen shot the farmers who were resting inside a hut located in the middle of the disputed piece of land.
"We call for a stop to the killings of farmers and for the arrest of the perpetrators," said Sister Ellen Belardo, national coordinator of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines.
Peasant leader Joseph Canlas expressed concern that the killing was the result of the long-standing dispute between the military and the farmers over Fort Magsaysay, a 3,100-hectare piece of land the military claims as its own.
The farmers claim the land was given to them under the government's agrarian reform program in 1991 but the military refused to recognize the order.
Labor Secretary Silvester Bello, who also heads the government peace negotiating team with communist rebels, called for an investigation into the killings "to ensure the perpetrators are identified and brought to justice."
"We cannot allow a repeat of the massacre where peasant leaders and farmers had been killed while we are in the middle of peace negotiations," said Bello.
In January 1987, communist rebels pulled out of peace negotiations with the government after government forces fired at peasants marching outside the presidential palace demanding land reform.
Edgardo Pamintuan, an adviser of the government peace panel, said the issue of land is the "central mobilizing force of the armed revolution" being waged by communist rebels.
Formal negotiations between the government and the rebels reopened on Aug. 22 in Oslo, Norway.
The two sides will meet again in the first week of October in Oslo to tackle substantive issues on social and economic reforms and political and constitutional reforms.